Select the search type
  • Site
  • Web
Search

Blog

Published on Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Plastic Eating Caterpillars Could Solve Our Trash Disposal Problem

[AMAZING]

Plastic Eating Caterpillars Could Solve Our Trash Disposal Problem

Over 300 million tons of plastic are produced around the world every year. But only 10% of those plastics are recycled properly. The rest end up in landfills polluting our environment. So what do we do? Researchers in Spain think they might have the answer: a caterpillar with the ability to digest plastic.


How Were the Caterpillars Discovered?

Federica Bertocchini, a researcher for the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), first discovered the tiny plastic eating caterpillars. She came upon them by accident; Bertocchini was removing caterpillars from her beehive and putting them into a plastic grocery bag.


The caterpillars Bertocchini found are known as waxworms. They are the larval stage of a common moth found in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. They are often sold as food at pet stores and are known to infest beehives where they like to eat the beeswax.


After leaving the caterpillars in the plastic bag for a few hours, Bertocchini returned to find holes in the bag where the caterpillars had chewed their way out. At first, Bertocchini assumed the caterpillars were just chewing through the plastic but not actually eating it. However, upon further research in the lab, she learned that the caterpillars were actually ingesting the polyethylene plastic.


With further studying, Bertocchini and her team of researchers learned that the caterpillars began to produce holes in the film of polyethylene plastic within 45 minutes of making contact. They digested the polyethylene and turned it into ethylene glycol, a biodegradable compound. They learned that the caterpillars’ ability to digest plastic was linked to their ability to digest beeswax.  


Are the Worms Effective? Or Are They Too Effective?

While researchers proved that the waxworm caterpillar could digest plastic, it’s obvious that the waxworm has no huge desire to eat plastic. Waxworms are common around the globe; if they truly enjoyed eating plastic, we would have seen more mayhem from swarms of waxworms at garbage dumps or even on our plastic lawn furniture. For example, with Bertocchini’s plastic bag, the caterpillars ate enough plastic to escape the bag but didn’t stick around to eat more as a tasty meal.


In Bertocchini’s example, she placed approximately 100 caterpillars in a standard plastic grocery bag. After 12 hours, the caterpillars had eaten 92 mg of the bag - a miniscule amount considering the entire bag weighs 5.5 grams (5500 mg) or 1.67% of the entire bag. This means it would take 100 caterpillars almost 30 full days (717 hours) to eat an entire bag - clearly caterpillars are not incredibly effective at decomposing plastics.


But compared to the alternative, 20 to 1000 years to decompose a plastic bag to microscopic particles in the natural environment, the waxworms have it. Plus, the waxworms convert the plastic to biodegradable compounds instead of just breaking down the plastic.


Does the Solution To Our Trash Problem Lie in the Caterpillars?

While the waxworm caterpillars work better than the natural environment at breaking down plastics, they are probably not the answer to our trash problem. It would be unrealistic to release millions and millions of waxworms at garbage disposals and wait years for them to do their thing. However, the solution may lie within the worms themselves.


Researchers are looking at the chemistry inside the waxworms’ stomachs to see if there is a molecule responsible for degrading polyethylene plastic. If they could find that molecule, they could isolate it and reproduce it on a larger scale so it would have a greater impact in degrading plastics. Researchers are also looking at specific bacterias that live in the guts of waxworms and similar caterpillars to see if that is responsible for breaking down the plastic. So while the caterpillars themselves may not be the key, the solution to degrading plastics may lie inside of them.


 

Rate this article:
5.0
Comments ()Number of views (726)

Author: AThompson

Categories: Blogs, Research, Animals & Wildlife

Tags:

Print

Search Jobs

Calender

«February 2018»
MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
29
1808

Gorillas React to Their Own Reflections

Watch this footage captured in the heart of the jungle of a group of gorillas catching glimpse of their own reflections for the first time. 

Read more
30
1809

A Bright Future for Renewables

While going with renewables used to be primarily an environmental decision, a new report shows that these energy sources may be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020.

Read more
31
1810

The World's Largest Underwater Cave

The world's largest underwater cave system has just been discovered in the depths of Tulum, Mexico. It stretches over 215 miles beneath the Earth's surface.

Read more
1
1811

Is Air Pollution Linked to A Crime Hike?

We all know that air pollution can cause pretty serious effects on the environment. But a new study shows that dirty air might also lead to increased crime as well.

Read more
2
1812

Dangerous Seduction: The Mating of the Tarantula

In nature, the art of seduction is not only essential to pass on genes, it can also be deadly when carried out incorrectly. Watch as the tarantula walks this fine line. 

Read more
34
5
1813

A Baby Squirrel’s Happy Ending

Nothing rekindles your faith in humanity quite like seeing a hurt animal nursed back to health by someone. That's exactly what happens in this adorable video. 

Read more
6
1814

Fracking: A Detailed Look

Though fracking has been around for decades, recent years has seen a sharp increase in its prevalence. But how safe is this drilling tactic anyway?

Read more
7
1815

The First Monkey Clones

Cloning has long been considered to be one of the most logistically and ethically complicated subjects among scientists and bioethicists. And with the very first successful cloning of two monkeys, things just got a bit more complicated.

Read more
8
1816

What Makes A City Eco-Friendly?

One of the biggest trends today is that people are flocking to cities more frequently than ever before. But with all this added population burden, how are cities staying green today?

Read more
9
1817

Snow Monkey Spa

Monkeys really are a lot like humans in so many ways. And this video of the famous hot spring macaques shows just that. What a wonderful way to warm up!

Read more
1011
12
1818

Incredible Animal Encounters

Sometimes we all need a reminder of how humans and animals are inextricably connected. This video from The Dodo shows five incredible animal encounters (from gorillas and hummingbirds to turtles, magpies, and seals) that will help restore your link to the animal world.

Read more
13
1819

Environmental Impacts of Self-Driving Vehicles

How will driverless cars impact the environment? It's an important question that researchers are asking themselves. From reduced CO2 from less cars on the road to health benefits and fewer scrapped vehicles, this futuristic new development just might end up changing the world.

Read more
14
1820

You Basic Guide To Green Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning is right around the corner! Now's the time to really dig into all those cleaning jobs you've been putting off all year and to make a fresh start. But don't be fooled - you don't have to use highly toxic chemicals to get the job done. Here are a few of our favorite green spring cleaning tips. 

Read more
15
1821

Can The World Depend on Renewable Energy?

A fully renewable energy plan has long been the dream of future-thinkers and environmentalists. But how realistic is this goal anyway? This video from TED-Ed dives into this question and gets to the bottom of what a fully renewable energy plan has to offer. 

Read more
16
1822

Oil Tanker Spill in China

Just last January, an enormous Chinese oil tanker collided with a freight ship in the East China Sea, unleashing 150 thousand tons of condensate oil, an incredibly toxic and particularly devastating type of oil. This National Geographic video covers the story. 

Read more
1718
19
1823

Rescues At Sea

Sometimes you just need a little reminder that humans and animals can in fact coexist. This video from The Dodo shows three acts of human kindness featuring different creatures from the sea. It's a heartwarming way to start the week!

Read more
20
1824

Is Your Diet BPA-Free?

BPA is an incredibly common chemical compound found in many food packaging components today. However, it can also be incredibly dangerous in terms of how it impacts your overall health. Research has shown that more of this dangerous chemical is getting into our bodies than we think.

Read more
21
1825

Ozone Depletion: A Detailed Look

The holes in the ozone are a direct impact of manmade pollution and environmental irresponsibility. But how does the process actually work? This detailed look at what ozone depletion is shows you just that.

Read more
22
1826

Is Urban Farming The Answer to Food Security?

As our world's population continues to skyrocket at an unprecedented pace, city dwellers are starting to contribute to the global food stores through what's known as "urban farming." Here's what  to know about this exciting trend and how you can get started.

Read more
23
1827

Black Beauty Stick Insects

Have a look at this strikingly beautiful stick insect found only in the mountains of Peru. This rare and unusual creature is only found in a tiny 12-acre area and is one little insect you won't soon forget.

Read more
2425
2627281234
567891011

Category

    Help Us Go Green
      
    Help Us Go Green